MLA: Legislature Budget changes split legislature

by Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

NNSL (OCT 04/96)- Cabinet budget changes split the legislature down the middle on the lawmakers' first day back in the house.

From their side of the room, ordinary members charged the budget had been undermined. They were upset over the addition of new capital projects and paring back, postponement, or cancellation of other budgeted projects.

"What's the point of a capital plan if you can just whip new projects out of your back pocket?" asked Thebacha MLA Michael Miltenberger.

Cabinet ministers said budget flexibility was necessary to cope effectively with changing circumstances.

The decision to cancel plans to retrofit a nursing station in Arviat provoked the most indignance.

"The money was moved, and it was moved without consultation with me or the hamlet of Arviat," said Kivallivik MLA Kevin O'Brien.

Health and social services minister Kelvin Ng, away at a conference in Iqaluit, slashed $728,000 of the $803,000 budgeted for the project.

"This practice violates the fundamental principles of consensus government; it's unacceptable and it must stop."

O'Brien said the people of Arviat have been promised a new nursing station for a number of years.

Two and a half years ago they bought property and demolished a building on it to make way for the facility.

Minister of Finance John Todd dismissed questions of the process by which the changes were made, saying critics should concern themselves with the merit of specific changes.

Though he held that the changes were justified, cabinet minister and Nahende MLA Jim Antoine said some of the criticism was justified.

"I agree that the MLAs (of the communities affected by changes) should be informed whenever changes are made...maybe we should look at process when major shifts in funding take place."